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The assumption is made here that the combination involves a sacrifice, i.e. giving up material. Beyond this assumption, it is then important to understand the nature of the sacrifice(s) involved.
A systematic categorisation of sacrifices can be found in .
If the combination carries a true sacrifice as opposed to a calculated sacrifice with no risk, then that the evaluation of that combination will be related to intuitive assessment of the resulting positions. E.g. if the combination involves a positional sacrifice, then analysis of variations may become secondary to assessing all the positional factors in the resulting position the combination leads to.
The position resulting from the following moves:-
1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 Bf5 4.g4 Bg6? 5.h4 h6 6.e6 fxe6 7.Nf3 reaching the
diagram position below.
A possible position out of the caro-kann
This position has to be assessed using positional, not tactical reasoning to evaluate the worthiness of the e6 pawn sacrifice. The extra black pawn on e6 is a clear liability because it slows down the natural development of blacks pieces. It also weakens the h5-e6 diagonal. Sheer calculation from this position is not enough to justify the pawn sacrifice.
Do not think in terms of "h5 Bh7 Bd3 Bxd3 Qd3 +1 pawn for black, oh dear" but in terms of:-
more abstract element management principles. e.g. "I can place a knight on e5, which will blockade the 2 pawns on e6 and e7, and I can overprotect the e5 square later, thus restricting the counterplay of the opponent."
Its being able to think abstractly like this using the vocabulary passed down to us by our predecessors such as Nimzovich which seperate us from our computer calculating metal monsters.
In calculated sacrifices where there is a clear expectation of material gain or a mating attack, it is re-assuring to check the combination for potential flaws.
The resourcefulness of the opponent should not be under-estimated. A realistic assessment of the resourcefulness of the opponent may force one to play a less aggressive move, but one which will be independent of the oppponent's replies. This is something computers are very good at - playing the objectively best move.
As humans we may be tempted to gamble, and rely on the possibility of the opponent making a mistake. However this might prevent our progress against higher rated players who are going to find the resources necessary to refute a combination.